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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Highlands-Greenwood Football Game Story

Bluebirds Hold Off Adams, Gators in Road Win

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior defensive back Casey Greene (36) makes a move during the 47-35 Bluebird victory at Greenwood on Friday. Greene had a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The host Greenwood Gators had their all-time leading rusher and scorer in senior quarterback Jackson Adams.

But for the first time in school history, the Greenwood Gators also found out why the visiting Highlands Bluebirds have had a lot of success throughout their 103-season history. That is offensive balance, opportunistic defense and nice special teams play. Highlands (4-5 overall) used all three to record a 47-35 road victory over the Gators (3-6) on Friday in Bowling Green.

Adams came into the game with a school record 4,561 yards rushing on 549 carries and 64 touchdowns for an average of about 8.3 yards per carry and a school record 390 points. That included 893 yards on 110 carries and nine touchdowns for an average of just more than eight per carry this year.

Adams once again put up some good numbers running the rare Greenwood Veer offense. Quarterbacks often have several reads on various plays. A lot of times that could be faking the dive then going outside. Adams rushed for 295 yards on 24 carries and four touchdowns for an average of about 12.3 yards per carry. He had three rushing touchdowns of 61 or more yards in the first half.

But Highlands outdid that running 94 plays to 56 for Greenwood. The Bluebirds put up 496 yards of total offense for an average of about 5.3 per play and the Gators had 379 yards for an average of 6.8 per play. Highlands had 291 yards rushing and 205 passing and Greenwood finished with 324 rushing and 55 passing.

"All week, we talked about how they do some crazy stuff with the Veer-Option," said Logan Sparks, Highlands senior linebacker. "We just had to line up and do what we're supposed to do. As you can see, we made a couple mistakes and that cost us a few big touchdowns. When we did what we're supposed to do, they got nothing. We have to keep working on that."

The Bluebirds also took advantage of critical turnovers. Highlands senior linebacker Crosley New had two fumble recoveries and senior linebacker Griffin Huber had another one. Senior defensive back Casey Greene picked off an Adams pass and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown for the fourth Highlands pick-six this year. New is tied with junior linebacker Alex Starkey and junior defensive back Bailey Armstrong for the most fumble recoveries for the Bluebirds this season.

"We knew we had to hang on, get some stops and get the ball back to the offense," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We did that when we needed to. In a game like this where every time they snap the ball, they're a danger to score, you have to steal some possessions. We stole some possessions and gave ourselves a chance. We took advantage of them. At the end of the day, you want to score more points than the other team. It's not always going to be pretty and you have to find different ways to do it. We got better at some things. But the best thing we got better at was finding a way to win."

Greenwood did not have as much success throwing the ball. Adams completed just 6-of-14 passes for 55 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He entered the game completing 84-of-227 passes in four years for 1,388 yards, 15 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

Highlands saw its two feature running backs take over and put the game away in the second half. Junior Cooper Schwalbach put up a monster day with 24 carries for 181 yards rushing and five touchdowns for an average of just more than 7.5 per carry and senior Larry Wilson rushed for 103 yards on 16 carries for an average of about 6.4 per touch.

"We really pushed the run," said Evan Owens, Highlands senior offensive lineman. "Larry Wilson and Cooper Schwalbach did a good job pushing behind the linemen. We also contained the outside rush. They couldn't get to our quarterback."

The Bluebirds converted 6-of-15 on third down for 40 percent and 4-of-8 on fourth for 50 percent. The Highlands passing game came through on those crucial plays. Bluebird senior quarterback Carl Schoellman completed 22-of-38 passes for 198 yards and two interceptions. Highlands threw three interceptions total, but Greenwood did not take advantage of them the way the Bluebirds did the four Gator turnovers.

"Our passing game was pretty good," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "They had a hard time stopping it. We still made some mistakes - guys not running the right routes. But we got the win. That's always good."

Highlands senior standout wide receiver Nick Veneman did not play. But the Bluebirds saw eight different receivers record at least one catch. Senior Jared Wogan had the most yards with four catches for 46 yards. Wilson and senior Grant Summers had four catches each with juniors Nate Roberts, Grady Cramer and Austin King grabbing three each.

Highlands may work on cleaning some penalties up this week. The Bluebirds had seven for 50 yards and the Gators had four for 39.

Adams broke free for a 61-yard score on the first Greenwood possession. The Bluebirds threw an interception on the first possession and drove into the Red Zone on their second possession. But after the Gators held on fourth down, Greenwood did not gain a first down and had to punt. But the high snap sailed out of the end zone for a safety trimming the Gator lead to 7-2.

Greene's pick-six came with 11:21 left in the second quarter to put Highlands up 10-7 after Cramer ran in the two-point conversion. But Adams answered with a 68-yard score to give Greenwood a 14-10 advantage. Following another Gator stop on fourth down, Adams scampered around the right side for a 78-yard touchdown to give Greenwood a 21-10 advantage.

"We told them all week there's nothing we're going to be able to do on the sidelines once the game starts. It's on you," Weinrich said. "We tried to put them in the best positions possible and try to teach them what they were going to try to do. We had to get better at it all week. We basically played four games in practice this week because we had so many reps with this offense. We tried to show them all the different nuances at what they were trying to do. We felt like our guys were able to fix some problems out there. The one thing you can't fix is the speed and instincts of (Adams). He's as good as I've seen running that offense. Hat's off to him."

But Schwalbach responded with a 65-yard touchdown and Cramer hit Roberts for a two-point conversion to trim the margin to 21-18. After a New fumble recovery, Schwalbach scored from two yards out with 1:02 left in the first half to put Highlands up 26-21 at halftime.

"We had to establish the running game before we established the passing game," Roberts said. "Carl makes plays under pressure. He throws the ball in the right spot. Receivers have to come down with the ball, especially on big plays on third down."

The teams exchanged turnovers to start the second half. But following New's second fumble recovery, Schwalbach again scored from two yards out to give Highlands a 32-21 lead with 7:28 left in the third quarter.

"The turnovers were big, especially four of them," said Griffin Huber, Highlands senior linebacker. "There were times when they were driving on us and we popped (the ball) out. Turnovers have a huge momentum shift. It gives our offense good field position. Our offense is good so when we do that, it makes us hard to beat."

Greenwood marched downfield and answered with 3:26 left in the third quarter. Adams ran around the right end to cut the Bluebird lead to 33-28 from eight yards out. But Schwalbach answered with a 25-yard touchdown to make it 40-28 Bluebirds with 1:19 left in the third.

"They did some things with their linebackers that we weren't expecting, especially to the outside," Deaton said. "Once we figured that out, we starting attacking the inside. We had a lot of success doing that, especially in the third and fourth quarter."

Highlands had a couple defensive stops before Schwalbach put the game away. He broke free for a 26-yard scamper with 1:46 left in the game to put the Bluebirds up 47-28. Greenwood's last touchdown was an Adams five-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Johnson.

The Bluebirds will try to finish the regular season with at 5-5 on the road Friday. They travel to Florence to face the Boone County Rebels (1-8) at 7 p.m.

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